Nothing is so good that it can’t be corrupted. Democracy is no exception.
Despite poll numbers that show the laughably low regard we have for what politicians say and do, threatening our country is business as usual in Washington. Does our distrust of our elected representatives threaten American democracy? Hardly. It protects the republic. It keeps us on guard. Something a lot more sinister is required to hurt us, like believing a political con job.
Threat to democracy or a con job from people we trust?
Nothing is as fundamental to democracy as the idea that representative government works. We decide who to send to Washington. We cross our fingers.
Our democracy is just as good as it has always been. It’s the people we pay to trust who seem to be getting worse.
Most of the time we know a con when we hear it. Pork sneaks into good bills. Legislation that claims to protect something does the opposite. Politicians say things about their colleagues that sound fishy or we know are outright lies. Sometimes we are too caught up in our own partisan likes and dislikes to spot a bad thing coming. That helps explain Hillary Clinton’s popularity despite a cavalcade of evidence that begs us not to trust her.
Democracy is threatened when we are manipulated into believing a Washington con job or are willing to look the other way.
Is a lie that aligns with our partisan likes more believable than the truth?
American democracy under attack, or the public trust corrupted?
People we pay to trust keep warning us that that there is an imminent threat to our democracy. It could be destroyed by a single court decision or one bad choice at the polls.
Pennsylvania Congressman Brendan Boyle resorted to the same overblown, bombastic threats that so many blame Donald Trump for when he warned of “the cancer within”1 and the threat posed by voting for the Republican candidate:
No foreign enemy, no matter how powerful or fanatical, can destroy the promise of America. Only we have the ability to do that.2
Boyle is right about that. When we accept what he and other politicians say as the truth we are at risk.
Fear mongering means more threats
Part of this year’s rampant fear mongering is Trump’s fault. He took a chance that his outrageous remarks about Russia and his opponent’s emails would put him in the spotlight without undermining his candidacy. What he got were outraged press releases such as Rhode Island’s Representative David Cicilline warning that his “call for hostile foreign action”3 threatened our republic.
It didn’t stop there. Florida’s Patrick Murphy suggested that the Republican nominee may have committed criminal violations:
Based on Mr. Trump’s statements, the committee [Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, Homeland Security, and Investigations] should examine the Logan Act, the Espionage Act, the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, and other relevant laws to determine if appropriate federal criminal statutes and court jurisdiction exist to prevent individuals from conspiring with foreign governments to undermine our democracy and target American citizens.4
That’s a pretty good laundry list for one humorous remark on the stump, but Democrats are a little short on levity this year. If I had to vouch for Hillary Clinton I wouldn’t be smiling, either.
Spreading fear: another con that works
Long ago Congress adopted the practice of naming legislation to promise results or imply threats. The Republican “Stop Sanctuary Policies and Protect Americans Act” is a prime example. The bill was answered by anti-Republican threats from Senator Bob Menendez. He warned of the dangers of using threats while he threatened the consequences of clamping down on illegal immigrant sanctuaries:
We cannot let “fear drive our policymaking. Let us actively and collectively resist the demagoguery that threatens to shape American policymaking for the worst.5
That rant was about protecting illegals. It’s how congressional threats work. Sometimes it’s better for lawmakers to not call attention to what they are really after.
Think, never believe
Democracy is threatened when our actions come from believing what we hear because we don’t think.
There is blame on both sides. Republicans charged Obama with threatening democracy:
The president’s decision to bypass Congress and grant amnesty to millions of unlawful immigrants is unconstitutional and a threat to our democracy.6
A bit of an overstatement to say the least, but Obama leveled a similar threat against Republicans halfway through his first term after Democrats fouled themselves over the Citizens United decision:
Now, as an election approaches, it’s not just a theory. We can see for ourselves how destructive to our democracy this [Citizens United decision] can become. We see it in the flood of deceptive attack ads sponsored by special interests using front groups with misleading names.7
Another election means fear being spread about electronic attack, foreign tampering with election results and worst of all, Americans making a bad decision. Politicians have a lot to lose. If they have to scare us into doing the wrong thing, scare us they will. In their eyes our role is not to participate in democratic government and wait for them to report back. Our role in America’s democracy is to shut up and pay.
Is democracy threatened by what the people do? If we elect the wrong person bad things can happen, but fear mongering tends to ignore the checks and balances that stop bad behavior in its tracks. Warning that our country will be destroyed gives far too much credit to anything our president, Congress, or anyone else in government can accomplish.
The real threat to democracy is this
Short of the Trump nuclear war Democrats are trying to scare us with, there is only one credible threat to Democracy here and now:
Putting trust in politicians whose con jobs trick us into acting on hysterical threats and lies.
One thing will never threaten Democracy:
Honoring the will of the people.
Why do so many we elect manipulate us into doing their will instead?